I’m a big fan of simulation and management style games, so I’m always willing to give any in the genre a go, no matter how niche they are. I’ve not ever come across one quite as niche as the London underground station simulator before, but it ticked a lot of boxes for me and I couldn’t allow my complete and utter hatred of trains get in the way of a potentially fun experience.
Overcrowd feels like it’s trying to add a Theme Hospital style onto the idea of building and running an underground railway network, and for the most part, it works very well. You have plenty of different items to build and you can really build the tube station that you’d want to commute in and out of. Almost everything can be upgraded and enhanced, and you can bring the whole thing together to be a well functioning and efficient station. Which would be a first, given such a station exists nowhere in the world! This is complemented well by the art style in Overcrowd. It’s very reminiscent of the early 2000s for me, looking very similar to the old Habbo Hotel style of graphics, but more vibrant and detailed. It’s really easy to lose yourself in creating not only a functional and slick station, but a beautiful one as well.
One aspect that I wasn’t aware of, but actually think turned into a pretty ingenious idea was the fact that you can’t build underneath anything. You can go down levels to create various underground sections, but they can’t go underneath anything you’ve built above them. This is where I found the most enjoyment in the game because it stops you from just building the same cookie-cutter station in every area. You’ve got to consider your randomly generated environment, where the tracks need to go and where the optimal places are for things like your staff room, or the vending machines. It adds a lot of strategy into the game and makes it a lot more challenging than it otherwise would be. You’ve also got to try to spend bonds – which you earn from passengers commuting – wisely. You use them to obtain new items like plants, bins and vending machines which you can then use to enhance the appeal of your station and bring in more cash to keep it running. The fact that everything gets completely randomised for the next level or next save game makes it so that there is no sure-fire way of achieving your goals, and you will have to adapt and learn what works and what doesn’t work in any given situation.
I did find myself struggling to get fully into Overcrowd though. It didn’t grab me for a variety of reasons, probably most of all because the tutorial didn’t really encompass everything that I’d need to know to get started with the game. It definitely touched on some aspects so I knew where things were, but it always plopped you into a scenario where you had already unlocked stuff. There is never a moment in the tutorials where you start from the beginning, so when I started a new game, I was surprised at how little there was available to me at the start of the game, and that I had to start with building from the bottom each time. I do understand that potentially this one is on me, but it just would have been nice for the opening tutorial to set you up and get you ready to start from scratch, rather than dump you in one that has had the opening boring bits already done.
I’ve given Overcrowd its due about how nice the game looks, but the music and sound design is, at best, average. In fact for the first half an hour I was playing it, I didn’t even realise it had music. I thought it was just playing the sounds of the underground – ticket machines printing tickets, trains arriving and the grumble of everyone complaining. This is probably about as damning a thing I can say about the music in the game – it’s so much in the background that you’ll genuinely never even notice it at all. With the sound effects and people wandering around as well, that’s not bad, but again it’s nothing special and I’d even say you could probably just play the game on mute and have Netflix up or something.
Overcrowd is one of those games that isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not a world beater – at least not yet. Of course there aren’t many games in the niche of “London underground tube station management simulation”, so it definitely stands out there, but in the grander simulation and management genre it misses a few targets that could really push it beyond.